The Darkest Hour
Friday, January 11, 2008

Simon on Beaumonde during the BDM, just before the Maidenhead incident. Basically a talk piece. (Sorry Zzeta!)


Inspired by Serenity written by Joss Whedon and Ariel by Jose Molina.

Warning: This is not a graphic tale or anything – but readers looking for laughs (and why the hell not?) should try my blog fics A Day at the Races and The Christmas Run instead maybe. .................................................

The Darkest Hour . Safe , such a small word – four letters - a four-letter word. That made it a curse word - and sometimes it felt that way. Simon Tam had wondered about it before… the word –SAFE. Doctors rarely used it… they might describe a patient as ‘out of danger’… no/one ever said a patient was SAFE.

“It’s not safe”, his sister had said again today. It was becoming a private ritual between them. An incantation – a spell, a game – one among the many they had played over the years. He heard his voice, toneless almost – as flat as the concrete grey around him – giving the response. “No, I fear it’s not safe anymore.” “For them.” His sister knew the closure, and it was correct.

River was not just his sister – River was his patient – River was – they were – never out of danger - never Safe.

Any patient feels guilt – they have let the healthy down – they are wrecking balls to the norm. Any Doctor feels guilt when they can offer no cure only palliative care – the magician feels like a charlatan, simply a conjuror – sleight of hand and the art of distraction.

And of course there is anger – sickness brings ostracism, fear of contagion with even the most non-infectious of conditions, the fear that comes with the vertiginous realisation that the norm has been wrecked – lives will never be the same, responsibilities shift, the balance tilts, nothing is… safe. For the Tams this was the reality of everyday. No safety. And yet – and yet – there was a beautiful simplicity for which Simon was sometimes grateful. River was sick, Simon was her Carer – and they were both criminals – clearly labelled, designated and despised accordingly by the society that had so very directly created River’s ‘sickness’.

Sickness? No. Injury. Wound. Mutilation. Again there was something symbolic, something ritual-esque. River had suffered at the hands of those seeking to circumcise her brain. So Anger, yes.

Even as he stood in the middle of the crowded port, on the heaving reaches of Beaumonde, Simon Tam’s body was tremulous with that anger. Even as he sought to find a way forward from this place – a way out – a way for them both to keep running – parts of his mind whirled and spun with these familiar thoughts. Useless thoughts. Useless. HE was useless – he was lost – he had lost Her… She had slipped away from him, caught up in the rushing cross-town current, the Beaumonde backwash. Lost.

He had failed. I do not even know where she is. And if I find her – what then – how can I possibly HELP her? he thought miserably. Self pity was not – was not correct – not… helping. I’m not helping… But it was – hard. Stood on the claustrophobic boulevard – he couldn’t prevent the maelstrom his senses and mind produced – it struck him physically.

Where – was – he?

Simon tried to pull his perspective into focus. He had been a curious interested child - and that curiosity had served him well when he had been made a criminal, forced to flee his home, live among outlaws, travel settlements and colonies far from the considered social order of the Alliance. Curiosity allowed him to become the tourist that he sometimes seemed to those he met. He could be engaged, could be interested – but with a distance between himself and others – between himself and his own experience… because distance could be… safety.

That distance was disappearing. The gap was narrowing. There would soon be no safety anymore.

Where- was – he?

Beaumonde. As he looked around and about, with a restless eye - and his collar up against a wind felt only by him - he thought suddenly of the family cat, that old hairy great fat cat from the hearth. Tax. Named with the usual precocious playfulness by River - the family’s pet Tax. Tax – also short for Taxidermy. Yes, typical River. Tax used to cough up huge and gruesome fur-balls, retching theatrically before disgorging them with a triumphant flash of the eye and a swish of the tail. Looking around at Beaumonde, with its flash and its clutter and its collisions, Simon Tam felt himself trapped inside one of humanity’s fur-balls. This – he thought – is what happens when humanity feeds on itself and then throws up.

His hands dug into his pockets and made odd clawing gestures.

And that was when somebody called his name.

Glancing up sharply, Simon saw a lanky form detaching itself from the swirl of the crowd – there was something familiar about that shuffling gait – too rangy to move comfortably here. “Ferral?” he asked. He was shocked by his own voice – and the tinny way it sounded in the artificially supported Beaumonde atmosphere.

The figure came in close – stooping. “Simon Tam!” It was a Core world accent – but it sounded different than Simon remembered, it had changed. “Bet you never thought to see me again huh?” The two men were silent for a moment – Ferral peering down through mild amber eyes. “Listen,” he said finally, “I’m glad – y’know – about your sister. I mean – you DID it man, you got her out.” Simon nodded his acknowledgement. “Yes – yes I did, actually – and I’m sorry – I was… rude to you.” The other man chuckled. “Threw me against a wall as I recall – but hell, I understand And… it was a good thing you did for me – made me face up to stuff – who I am…” “The Underground?” “Yeah… I mean – yes. Ha! Will you get a loada me? I haven’t been in the Core for almost a year – I’m starting to sound like I’m from the Rim already.” Ferral cast a look around, his mouth turned down. “I miss… the trees sometimes, y’know?” Simon was already becoming distracted but his “Trees. God, yes.” was sincere. Ferral leant in close again. “Listen Simon – this is no accident us meeting, I can -” “I need to find my – I have to find River – I’m lost…” Simon’s pale face was bleak.

Ferral smiled. “Hey, don’t worry – here to help.” He pointed back to a recess in the traffic strip – there was a vehicle parked, Simon noticed, a bubble bike. Fast looking but ordinary enough. “Yeah – yes, that’s mine”, Ferral acknowledged. “C’mon – get in.” Suspicion made Simon’s feet glue themselves to the ground – getting across the road was difficult. “You ok?” asked Ferral, his voce concerned. “Y’seem kinda sick.” Simon shook his head. “Just get me to my sister”, he breathed.


The bike was even faster than Simon had supposed – under the plexi-lin the Doctor felt his skin, hair and clothes yanked tightly back – he screwed his eyes as the streets of Beaumonde blurred. Not a problem – the ugly amputated lanes springing up from the port were nothing he wished to see, the bike zigzagged scarily, criss-crossing back and forth before screeching to a halt. The journey had taken seconds. Simon felt nauseous again.

He stumbled forward from the machine – aided by Ferral and dimly aware of a clanging sound – they were inside a building now. He looked up.

“What is this place?” “It’s a safe house. Relax.”

They were in a room at least. Someone had rigged a crude string of LED lights across a wall – but the illumination was minimal. The groggy atmos of Beaumonde seemed still to penetrate the interior – despite the solid chrome of the walls, the steel of the door.

There were two men (maybe more in the shadows) stood by a low table, their backs to the Doctor – but they were armed, he could see the bulky holsters. Another man was sat facing him, in a chair. Just a chair – but this was a… leader, Simon knew it at once. The face was surprisingly bland – ordinary - a little fleshy maybe, a medical eye could read incipient heart trouble, lack of exercise, though the shape of the man was compact enough. It was probably age and too many… chairs. But there was something… It wasn’t just the whispering men, bowed heads and all – that deferred to him. The air, the light, even the sounds in the room seemed to bend and centre upon him.

The man was regarding him curiously. A welcoming smile placed on the mouth.

“Who are you?” Simon squinted through the murky half-light – tugging away from Ferral to square up aggressively. The man before him remained unmoved – his heavy eyelids didn’t flicker. “That’s not altogether important.” The words, smooth enough, were sanded still further by the voice – weathered, stony – it took Simon by surprise but the adrenaline was still raging in him. “But you are the Resistance? The Underground?”

The man eyed him steadily. “You make it sound so solid Simon. The Underground – The Resistance… as if were a force! Well, perhaps we are… but the way you mean? A Unity? An Army? - Most certainly not. It’s natural of you to talk that way of course – a medical man like yourself. Doctors deal in the tangible – tend to simplify… sickness – cure.” He waved his left hand then his right. They were gloved Simon noticed – but black, leather. The man caught his wandering eye – leant forward intently. “Do you see the Alliance as a sickness now Doctor?” “I don’t” – The hands waved again. “Infection”, right hand, “anti-bodies”, left hand. “Y’know there are those that say – If God wanted Man among the stars he would not have created Reavers. Are THEY anti-bodies do you think?”

Simon was finding the man’s tone, his words hard to process – they spun him – threw him off balance - he did what he could not to show it… biting hard on his jaw, even as he fought the panic – even as he wanted to run – even as he needed to find River – even as he found himself asking, “Are you some sort of – are you a Shepherd?”

Again – it was rain off a pebble. “You see it’s the WHAT I am that really matters too you – not the whom. I am a man, as any other. A life.” Once more, leaning forward – once more intently holding Simon’s eyes. “You save lives I believe.”

Before Simon cold react a spotlight came on – or at least some sort of ceiling light – the man on the chair seemed to sigh lightly at the stageyness – but there on the wall was a screen, a roll of plexi-vu, hanging like a mirror whose rainbow reflection stirred and swam into sudden bright life. Simon was looking at himself.

It was a scene he should remember well enough – standing over the hospital bed, leaning over the man, the dying man – even as the desperate seconds ticked away and the whining heart monitor filled the air. “He’s tachycardic!” he heard someone yell. “But he’s stabilized.” – except he didn’t, not hardly, the man had lived, he knew that, but - this was Ariel, there had been other concerns, there had been – there was River.

The picture froze.

The man in the chair was smiling. “You’ve done a lot of GOOD Simon. Saved lives.” The picture swirled and shifted – coalesced. And there, widescreen, was Simon’s nightmare: Two men, walking, quietly, simple men, neat men, men on business, men in suits, wearing gloves. Blue gloves. “You’ve exposed some of the rot that lurks behind the face of the Alliance.”

Simon just stared. The man nodded again. “But, so far, these are – fringe benefits…”

So that was it – what the man was saying, - finally - was nothing new, Tam had heard the arguments long ago – when he had first come to the Underground for help. “I know, I know”, Tam interrupted, “it should be my vocation, correct? My calling? I already have that – my sister -”

The Doctor was cut off in turn. “It’s the same thing, Simon. All I ask is that you try to realise that. It is the same thing.”

Simon had tuned out – caught again by the strolling horror on-screen.

“Where – where did you get this?” His mouth was dry.

The man clucked his tongue. “Oh come now Simon – we have our sources, you of all people should know that. But – as for this – it was simply a security camera. Hospitals, y’know? It IS interesting what a man finds when he’s looking for you. Are you aware just how completely you dropped off our radar?” “I was running.” “Well, yes. Naturally. But from us too – it would appear. Why? Why I wonder – are things so different with your new friends? With Captain Reynolds?” “Who?” Simon was quick, too quick maybe, “I don’t know a Captain Reynolds.” “Captain Malcolm Reynolds.” “No – nothing to do with me. Whoever he is.” Wherever he is. Reynolds may have done – might BE – a lot of things, but Simon owed him that much at least… and he owed his sister so much more – and this man, nothing at all. “I don’t -”, his words were halted by a new image on the screen. It was Mal, Simon should’ve guessed that was coming, but he didn’t recognise the locale – seedy, some sort of bar, could be any one of numerous shady stops-offs the Captain frequented. The camera was panning around and there – drifting slowly through a tide of people and into view of the lense was River. That was her new dress – and this was now.

“Where is this? Where is she?” Simon demanded hoarsely. The man in the chair made a disgusted sound. “Ach, these dens – these places – so transitory, but useful – everyone has someone in a place like that. We have a contact on the door – and someone watching the security. Again.” Simon was not really listening. His blood was up now – cheeks flushed, his hands coming out from behind his back were clenched. He spoke slowly and precisely – trying to hold himself together. “I really don’t have time -” Yet still the man was unperturbed – still the man cut him off. “But of course you don’t Simon, time is not a possession.” “Shall I tell you what Time is, Simon?” he continued, “Time is a Satan whose simple trick is to convince us that his power is real.”

Simon was shaking – self control, self control! “I really do NOT have time! And… spirituality – if that is what you are talking about – you should know, it’s not my provenance. I suggest you take it up with…” he was babbling, he knew it, “Shepherd Book.” He finished. “Who?”

Simon was no longer listening – he was sucking air into his lungs – Fight the anger! He yelled to himself – fight the panic! He had to find out where River WAS – and he had to get there. He was making ragged sounds now – something animal in him was -

“Believe me Simon,” the man sounded genuinely concerned. What the hell?! “Simon – breathe! I do sympathise, I understand - I can feel your confusion. That is the tenor of the times, surely. You need to take a step back.”

“From what? From myself – from you – from Serenity – from, from River?” The man shook his head. “From the noise Simon.” Being at a loss once more was NOT reassuring. “Oh. Really.” “Yes really. Y’know a man can spend a lifetime listening for something other than noise. Something…” With unexpected speed the man came off the chair, he came up and over Simon, smoothly, like a wave, “but it’s right here Simon.” The man put out his leathered palm and touched it to the Doctor’s chest. Simon inhaled sharply – he did not like to be touched. The man held his gaze with similar gentle force. “On the Earth-that-Was,” he said, “the Ancients had a phrase for it, the ‘still small voice of calm’. What’s true of one is true of all. Remember that Simon, the still small voice of calm. Eta kooram nah smech.”

Those sounds – that odd phrase, Simon had almost forgotten. He had heard them before… drilled into him so long ago by Ferral, or someone like him – in a dark room, during his search for River – to save her. So little had changed. Eta Kooram nah smech. The Safeword. Just a stupid phrase – why did the man make it sound as though it meant so much more? And why remind him of it now?

The kaleidoscopic light from the Vu-Screen was shifting again. With mounting dread Simon turned reluctantly – and staggered back aghast at what he saw. River was staring back at him – straight back at him. He could see her eyes wide and wondering – for a moment. Then the eyes rolled up in her head, her mouth went slack, even as she tried to speak. “Miranda”, barely a whisper.

In that instant Simon forgot himself entirely - tearing away from the screen, from that face, her face, and the meaningless name she had spoken – he spun around, expecting – what? Restraint? Opposition? Sudden unconsciousness? Instead the man moved easily aside, gesturing. “Get him to the Maidenhead. Quickly.” Galvanized, Simon dashed past him – nearly collided with Ferral who grabbed his arm, but only to steer him through the darkened exit. Moments later they were in the speeding bubble bike – and away.

One of the men by the desk moved forward – he was clearly annoyed. “I hope that was worth it – you got what you came for? We shoulda – I could’ve got them away.”

The man who had spoken to Simon shook his head. “For how long?” He was watching the screen – the images of erupting violence, a storm ripping through the Maidenhead bar… a human storm. “The Tams would appear to be somewhat – truculent.” “They would be safe.” The man sighed. “And you really haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said, have you?”

He turned away abruptly. “Well, that’s that.” From the shadows behind the chair – a man emerged – as if the darkness had formed itself into sudden humanity. “Your Grace?” “Ah, Solomon. Our work here is done. You are a lover of adventure I believe – I must say I do not share such an appetite. In any case, there are matters – more mundane perhaps, but no less important – awaiting us at home.” He cast a last weary glace around. “Besides, I have had my fill of shadows, skulking, low ceilings, neon and concrete… it will be good too see the sky, the stones and the rolling downs again.”

The End.

……………………….. ………………………..

I hope this was of interest. I owe CBSteve a thanks for making me look for ‘lost conversations’ or gaps… this is not what I expected to find – and MerryK among others is most likely right in thinking that the lost conversation that explains why River enters the Maidenhead before Simon - is probably between Kaylee and him. The camera makes a point of showing Kaylee’s exit – to where? Serenity presumably. Still…this is what wrote itself eventually after many attempts and fuelled finally by delirious flu, which explains its, uh, fevered state. Ha ha! Still, if it’s go-se, the fault is mine.

I’m leaving Simon alone for a while now.

Any feedback – all comments – gladly received.


Friday, January 11, 2008 7:40 AM


Very interesting perspective. I wouldn't have considered that Simon left the vicinity. I can't see him going anywhere that would take him further away from his sister, but the end made me wonder who the hell this man was. He was clearly someone of importance or at least with a lot of money.

Maybe write a sequel (a much longer one . . . heee!) where the crew runs into this man again? Maybe after Miranda? And we can see who he really is?

Friday, January 11, 2008 2:18 PM


Very interesting.

You do really have a way of writing a scene.

(after almost a couple of months is finally working on my PC - and a this treat was waiting to be read :D)

<blockquote><br><hr color='#66ccff' size='1'>
“I don’t” –

The hands waved again. “Infection”, right hand, “anti-bodies”, left hand. “Y’know there are those that say – If God wanted Man among the stars he would not have created Reavers. Are THEY anti-bodies do you think?”
<hr color='#66ccff' size='1'></blockquote>


Wednesday, August 6, 2008 4:18 AM


Took me a while but i finally got around to catching up on my reading *grins* Very interesting fic. I love the descriptions you use here, going into smaller details to weave a bigger picture and then combining it with how Simon feels.

Really intriguing idea, I must admit I did wonder where Simon had gone but just presumed River had rushed away from him or soemthing. This is a more fascinating idea. The idea of comparing the Alliance, the verse and the Reavers-everything really-to biological mechanisms is quite apt, I like it.

The one thing I did find that slightly interrupted the flow for me was the dashes, they did jar me a bit.


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Independently Blue parts complete 3 parts
just a coda to wrap things up is all.

Bell, Book and Candle - pt 5. Conclusion.
CONCLUSION: While the Serenity crew are at gun-point, Inara has persuaded the leader of the men to stand down. However, as a hysterical River flees the ship, the shooting starts.
Meantime – Mal and the LoveBot™ Sebastian are en-route to find Jossiah Bell and the missing Shepherd Book.

Bell, Book and Candle pt 4
Book has been vanished. Serenity taken hostage. Mal is getting annoyed. Kaylee's getting curious. Inara is getting ambassadorial.

Bell, Book and Candle Pt 3
new chapter: Pt 3 of 5. The crew held hostage, Mal off to settle a score, Book in a very strange shop...

Bell, Book and Candle pt 2
Serenity has found a cargo of wine is actually oil.
There are complications. Book and Kaylee are taking in the town of Candle.

Bell, Book and Candle - pt 1
New Fic. Pt 1. The Serenity crew at work and... not so much,
serious and - not so much.
Easing myself back into the game with this curio.

The Wages of Sihnon - CONCLUSION
Inara and Saffron are on Sihnon, attending a ceremony between Companions and Shepherds. Radha Brook and Phil Yip are also there investigating some missing girls.

The Wages of Sihnon - pt 5 (of 6)
Having been summoned to Sihnon, Inara is attending a Temple shindig between the Guild and The Shepherds. For reasons not yet fully explained, Saffron is with her. Phil Yip and Radha Brook are investigating the disappearance of some young Companions in Training.

The wages of Sihnon pt 4 (of 6)
Inara has been summoned to Sihnon to liaise in meetings between the Shepherds and the Guild. Meantime some trainee companions are missing and GIA Agent Radha and Private 'Tec Phil Yip are investigating. Saffron appears to be in cahoots with Inara and is disguised as a novice companion.
This chapter - a nosy journalist and the High Priestess.

The Wages of Sihnon - pt 3
Inara has been summoned to Sihnon where the Shepherds are visiting. She has brought with her a young woman to act as aide to the Abbott. Meantime some Trainee Companions are missing from a shuttle and the Guild have apparently sent Radha Brook to investigate. Phil Yip, an irritable detective for a private security firm is also on the case.